Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Rituals and Memories

 It's funny what sticks with us through the years as we celebrate holidays with our family, and then grow up to share rituals and memories with our own children.  Each new generation combines the traditions and special habits of the previous generation with its own new ideas.

When I was little, my mother made a set of three Wise Men.  She took heavy paper cones about 10" tall, dipped some heavy, rich cloth pieces in a water-starch-glue mixture, and  layered the fabric in heavy folds to create the "robes" of the Wise Men.  She used simple inverted cones as the heads, wrapped more fabric around them to form turbans, and glued on simple felt mustaches and beards.  The finishing touch was a large, fancy button at the center of each turban - one of some embossed gold metal, one gold button with a huge glass "diamond" in the middle, and one "pearl" the size of a marble.  I loved setting up the wise men somewhere near the Christmas tree every year.  I decided that the Wise Man in the cobalt-blue robe with the cream turban and the diamond button was Melchior.  We had those figures for a dozen years before they finally disintegrated, but I still remember them fondly.

My mother has gone through numerous interests and hobbies in her life.  Some interests were brief - macrame was mercifully short-lived, although it was fun for a summer.  Make-It-Bake-It window decorations were fun for a while.  Latch-hook rugs came and went several times over a number of years, and she still has a few lovely rugs in her house that she made using heavy wool yarn.  Knitting and crocheting came around regularly, almost every winter.  Afghans, sweaters, blankets, Mom could make anything.  When I was about 4, Mom decided to knit Christmas stockings for my sister and I.  Since I was older, I got to choose first, so I picked Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  (My sister was MAD about that, but she settled for Frosty the Snowman.)  As two more sisters came along, they got Santa and crossed candy canes.   When my parents moved about 13 years ago, the stockings mysteriously vanished, and we were sad that we couldn't find them anywhere.  Mom was afraid they'd gotten sold in something at a garage sale.  Then, a couple years after the move, she remembered a drawer at the bottom of a tall secretary cabinet.  Sure enough, there they were, and we were all delighted; it was like meeting old friends again.  Years later, Mom gave us our stockings to use in our own homes with our families.  I've got Rudolph hung up on our stairs right now, but I never tried to make stockings for my own kids.  I bought pretty needlepoint ones for them - a lovely angel for our daughter, and a kitty by a rocking chair with a teddy bear for our son.  I never learned to knit, although I'm tempted to try by all of my Etsy friends who sell wonderful yarn.  (As if I need another craft-related interest!)  But this year, my youngest sister knit a stocking with crossed candy canes for my baby nephew, so the tradition lives on.

Christmas cookies - my family loves Christmas cookies.  My Mom always made Date-Walnut pinwheels (my favorite, and my Dad's favorite too), Pecan Sandies (mmm!), and Frosted Sugar Cookies.  Oh, and Bourbon Pecan Cake - oh my goodness, it's so GOOD!  I've made it a few times myself, and might make it again this winter just for fun.  The house always smelled so good when we were baking.  We've added the traditions of biscotti and triple peanut butter chip cookies for our generation.

Every year there was the ritual of the Christmas lights.  When I was little, the lights weren't the little twinkly ones - they were the ones that looked like skinny hard-boiled eggs, and were almost that big.  The untangling, the testing, the replacing of bulbs (the muttering, the occasional muffled imprecation, the shivering), the stringing, and finally the plugging in and the bright lights on the tree that made it all worthwhile.

My parents had quite a number of records (remember those?) and a nice stereo system (remember turntables?).  Every year the classic Christmas albums would be dusted off and happily played - Andy Williams, Perry Como, and others filled the house with familiar tunes and happy memories.  I've been posting a Christmas song each day to my YouTube account since right after Thanksgiving, sharing some old favorites and newer discoveries to include others in the fun and joy I find in this season. 

Merry Christmas, friends!

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